Why Did We Let R. Kelly Abuse Underage Black Girls for Decades?

Gillian Sisley

The message that hammers home — if these girls were White, R. Kelly would have been stopped decades ago.

Upon wrapping up the docu-series “Surviving R. Kelly” on Netflix, I found myself in a place of total disbelief and despair.

I thought I had some semblance of understanding of these women’s experiences being a survivor of abuse and sexual assault myself — but once again, my White privilege continues to confront me and prove me wrong.

In June 2002, Kelly was charged with 21 counts which included making child pornography involving intercourse, oral sex, urination, and more.

These charges rose from a videotape featuring what appeared to be R. Kelly engaging in sexual acts with a minor — the tape was anonymously given to the Chicago Sun Times. They immediately passed the tape on to police, who involved the appropriate people in the case, including the FBI.

It took six years for that trial to eventually go to court, at which point the minor in the tape refused to testify. According to her aunt, singer and performer Sparkle, her niece didn’t want to endure further humiliation, and wanted it all to go away.

For that reason, without a victim to testify and identify herself in the video, the jury shockingly found Kelly not guilty of all 21 counts.

Reporters present at the trial shared a similar shock in the verdict, and former acquaintances in the “Surviving R. Kelly” docu-series stated that they all thought R. Kelly was going to be charged and get jail time.

Many were left horrified that, even with video evidence of a clearly minor child engaging in sexual activity with Kelly, he was not held accountable for a single thing.

Because the fact of the matter is, if young, White girls had been the victims in R. Kelly’s pedophilia trial, he would have been found guilty.

He wouldn’t have walked away a free man.

If it had been a White 14-year-old minor in his “Peeing Sex Tape”, the world would have been so infuriated and come down on R. Kelly hard. He would be in jail right now.

If the survivors stepping forward were White women claiming horrific abuse at the hands of R. Kelly, he would have been far more likely to be held accountable.

But because R. Kelly’s victims are Black girls and women, for some reason people just don’t seem to care all that much.

And we need to be far more infuriated with that fact than we are.

Time is f*cking up.

Meticulous manipulation.

People say that the women who were being allegedly abused by Kelly could have left. Why did they not just walk out?

They claimed he was holding them hostage through force, emotional abuse, physical harm and extreme manipulation.

Many ask the same question they ask most domestic abuse victims — why not just leave?

But those people who ask this question don’t understand the depth of manipulation and psychological abuse inflicted upon these beautiful girls and women by a predatory monster, which will simply not allow them to leave so easily.

The fear, the threats, the absolute and total abuse of riches, celebrity and power have a strong, terrifying hold.

The manipulation runs deep — both when it comes to these girls and women, and the public as well.

With the public, R. Kelly displays a brand of being a gospel, soul singer who inspires the masses.

We all felt empowered by “I Believe I Can Fly”, and grew up to, “Remix to Ignition”. So many seem to entirely disregard his disgusting predatory or pedophilic actions, and yet are still pleased to listen to his music and celebrate his “musical genius”.

We saw a similar situation with Michael Jackson — the public is very quick to easily disregard the voices of survivors when they step forward, because the public is so swayed and in awe of power, money and popular music.

But how can we contently celebrate the music when the creator is intentionally and cruelly sexually abusing and beating children and adults?

We’ve let R. Kelly get away with his actions of pedophilia and abuse of women for over 20 years.

In the age of #BlackLivesMatter being louder than ever, why is it still that Black girls still don’t seem to matter to our society.

Systematic abuse.

Many in the R. Kelly documentary say the same thing — Kelly seems to believe he is virtually untouchable. And history shows that our society supports that.

Photo illustration by Slate. Images by Lifetime.

Dozens of women step forward in this documentary alone, telling the same stories of having to ask permission to eat and use the restroom, having their electronics removed so that they could not contact family, calling him “Daddy” at all times, and being starved or beaten if they “broke his rules”.

Among the survivors who stepped forward and spoke out was his ex-wife and the mother of 3 of his children, Andrea Lee Kelly (pictured far right).

Over a dozen individuals alone — from victims, to witnesses, to former friends and employees of Kelly’s — support the allegations of him not allowing women to leave his home, seeking out underaged girls for sexual engagement, and inflicting horrific abuse on the women in his company.

People claim this could never happen, and yet they conveniently forget that R. Kelly forged documents so that he could marry 15-year-old singer Aaliyah when he was 27-years-old.

Aaliyah claimed that she was 18 on the marriage certificate.

Information extracted from IPTC Photo Metadata.

And yet, despite the overwhelming numbers of those speaking out, the disbelief in these stories still remains.

The distrust of the survivors is utterly painful to stomach — but that’s a reality that survivors live with. Justice is even less likely when the victims are Black girls.

Despite all of the aligning accusations, these women are still called liars who just want attention.

Despite even friends and former employees of Kelly’s being among the witnesses who stepped forward, it’s still claimed that all allegations are completely bogus, and are just an attempt to get R. Kelly’s money.

Even though no one ever asked for money — all they want is justice.

To all the lost girls.

In the height of the #MeToo movement, we were all talking about Harvey Weinstein.

But for some reason, R. Kelly was completely excused from that conversation.

Regardless of accounts from concerned parents that R. Kelly kidnapped and brainwashed their children, some when they were minors.

Despite the reports of misconduct from so many.

Despite the claims of Kelly’s staff making death threats against the parents of the girls he was holding hostage, and the girls themselves if they tried to leave.

R. Kelly was excused from all critique, claiming that anyone who comes out against him is “greedy and wants his money”.

The gaslighting is immense. The abuse of power is suffocating.

And yet, we’re still letting it happen.

To all the girls who watched their innocence be snatched away. And to all the women who are still in his grasp. And to the survivors who are still living with the trauma of his destruction :

You are loved.
You are not forgotten.
We see you.
We hear you.
And we will not stop fighting for you.

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Online solopreneur. Tea drinker. Committed optimist. I write about womanhood, social justice, writing & entrepreneurship.


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